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Succession in Family Businesses: new Windesheim professor from 'own school' takes over

    Wednesday 11 May 2022
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Inaugural address on Family Businesses by Judith van Helvert

Taking over a family business is a special (business administration) discipline: on the one hand, business preferences may clash with family interests; on the other hand, such a takeover represents a balance between continuity and renewal - with a successor who is well versed in the traditions and environment of a company. This also applies to Judith van Helvert, the new professor of the Dutch Centre of Expertise in Family Business at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences. She will be delivering her inaugural address on Friday 13 May.

"Just like in family businesses, a professor must also be able to let go," is how Ilse Matser, who as a professor at Windesheim University of Applied Sciences ten years ago was one of the founders of the Dutch Centre of Expertise in Family Business(opens in new tab), put it when she left - in search of new personal challenges. The time had come to hand over the lecturer's baton to the next generation. A new professor has already been appointed. And on 13 May, she will be officially installed as a professor and deliver her inaugural address. Just like in the best traditions of a family business, she comes from the professorship's own ranks. Or as the new Windesheim professor, Judith van Helvert, herself puts it: "Ilse Matser and our team have built up a successful professorship in 10 years' time and it feels as if - just like in a family business - I am the next generation to take over the baton."

More about the ‘new generation’

That’s because this new professor comes from the research group's own ranks. She has been involved with the professorship almost from the very beginning: first as a PhD student, and after her PhD research as a senior researcher and the last few years as an associate professor. Van Helvert studied International Business and worked for several years at Utrecht University. This was the place where she got to know her predecessor Ilse Matser. And it was Ilse who once took her to a family business dinner, where the seed was planted for her fascination with family businesses. In 2010, Judith switched to the professorship and started a PhD project at the Jönköping International Business School in Sweden on the role and function of advisory boards in family businesses. After getting her PhD in 2018, she subsequently conducted research on business succession in the agricultural sector, on sustainability in family businesses and on the role of non-family employees in promoting entrepreneurship in family businesses.

Continuity and renewal

With an eye for continuity and renewal - so characteristic of the family businesses that the research group is studying - Van Helvert will, in her new role as professor, on the one hand build on what has already been achieved – e.g. more knowledge about management, strategic entrepreneurship, good governance and business succession in family businesses - and on the other hand add a new dimension by going deeper into emotions, motivations, convictions, role patterns and relationships of and between all family members. In short, she will shift the research focus of the professorship to even more research into the influence of the family system on the operations of family businesses. Because their acting and thinking on the basis of their family structure is what distinguishes family businesses from non-family businesses, according to the new professor. And by researching this, we will soon understand (even better) why family businesses behave differently. Hence the title of her inaugural address: It's all in the family! Why family businesses think and act differently.

Professor of Family Businesses Judith van Helvert, photographer Evert van de Worp

About changing family structures

According to the professor, a stronger focus on the family system is also important because family structures are changing due to shifting socio-demographic factors: people are having fewer children, getting married later and breaking up more often. Or think of women who are increasingly active on the labour market or children who continue to live at their parents' homes longer. These developments have implications for the way families do business. Finally, a better understanding of the family system is also important because of another shift that is currently taking place: i. e. the transition from a finance-driven economy to a significance economy, with a greater focus on non-financial goals. Family businesses, because of their underlying values, according to Van Helvert, traditionally attach greater value to non-financial goals of this kind.

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